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Local founders look back at Auburn relay start

Tough economy taking toll on event, chairwoman says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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With the Relay For Life of Auburn celebrating its 12th year later this month, those who started it are looking back at the challenges they faced and why the event needs to keep going. Joan Maxwell was manager of the American Cancer Society’s Discovery Shop on Grass Valley Highway when the organization asked her to begin the relay in Auburn in 2000. “The American Cancer Society just called and asked,” Maxwell said. “I was probably the only person they knew in Auburn, so I sent out a message to all my friends, and five of them showed up, and we had a kickoff at The Ridge and we had seven teams.” Maxwell said she and her co-chair, Diane O’Hara, had six weeks to put the event together, and they raised $15,000 that year. About 100 people were involved. Maxwell said she has several favorite memories that date back to the first relay that are still going on today, such as Luminaria ceremony where survivors are honored and those who were lost to cancer are remembered. In 2001, Maxwell had a special surprise during the entertainment portion of the second relay. “I like the entertainment, especially when my 6-year-old grandson, unbeknownst to anyone, he got up on stage and did break dancing,” she said. “It was a surprise. We were all looking at each other like, ‘Who is that kid up there?’” Maxwell said the biggest challenge when the race began was getting the word out and getting people involved, because back then no one was familiar with the relay. O’Hara said she worked for the American Cancer Society and was going to retire in 2000, so helping Maxwell co-chair the event seemed like a perfect fit. “I was on staff with the American Cancer Society for 17 years prior to the first relay (in Auburn),” O’Hara said. “And I just had such wonderful volunteers. I was manager of the Discovery Shop. I thought, ‘You know, I have been a staff member, I would like to try being a volunteer for a change.’ Joan and I have been really good friends for many, many years, so she said, ‘Why don’t you co-chair it with me?’ and I said, ‘OK.’” O’Hara said the relay was also special to her because her brother passed away from cancer. “The one in 2001, my brother was getting really bad, and it was very emotional for me when we did the Luminaria,” she said. “And he died the following month. So, it just brought home how special and important that event is, and how important it is to keep going and keep raising awareness, first of all, and research monies. Those go hand in hand.” As the relay continued, so did its support in Auburn, O’Hara, who was co-chair through 2003, said. “There was more participation, more people becoming aware of it, more money being raised for cancer research and all the cancer programs,” she said. “Just overall, the excitement (was building). We would end the relay and that day when we were cleaning up and packing everything away, we were starting to talk about next year’s event. That is how excited everybody was.” Maxwell said in 2006, her last year as chair, there were 33 teams involved in the event and they raised $200,000. Katrina Sallagoity, relay chairwoman for 2011, said there are some differences between the early days of the relay and the upcoming event. “One of the things that has changed from when it first started to today with the economy being the way it is, getting the donations, they don’t come so easily,” Sallagoity said. “There are so many other nonprofit organizations that are out there fundraising just as much as the American Cancer Society.” Sallagoity said the mission is to make the relay a year-round campaign, so fundraising is always a goal. Between 2000 and 2010 the Auburn relay raised $1,089,259, according to Amy Jones, Relay For Life manager for the Auburn event. It’s important to keep the relay going because of the services it helps provide to those in the Auburn area, Sallagoity said. “Since the relay started in Auburn, within the first 10 years they raised $1 million, so they became a million-dollar relay,” she said. “Even though it’s not about the money, it’s about what the money does. They money they raise through the Auburn relay stays within the community for those services and for the cancer research so we can celebrate a world with no cancer.” So how has the relay benefited the community of Auburn since its inception? “It just made us more aware of cancer and what we need to do to raise the money, find the cure,” Maxwell said. “I’m just happy that we started it and it has continued, even through the rough stages.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ----------------------------------------------------- This is part of a four-part series on Auburn’s Relay For Life annual event. Read and comment on the entire series on this site. Sunday: How Relay for Life inspires one who has undergone cancer treatment Monday: A cancer survivor shares what relay means to her Today: A look back at the first Relay and how it’s helped Auburn residents over time Wednesday: Learn about the most successful Auburn area team and how you can help ----------------------------------------------------- Auburn Relay For Life event schedule When: Aug. 20-21 Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn Opening ceremony 10 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 20 Survivors lap 10:30 a.m. Aug. 20 Luminaria ceremony 9 p.m. Aug. 20 Fight Back/Closing ceremony 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 21